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The SCARF® Model for Leadership - 3.0

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PET scan, public domain, by Jens Langner

PET scan, public domain, by Jens Langner

In SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, David Rock presents findings from various social neuroscience studies. Two emerging themes stand out:

Firstly, that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward (Gordon, 2000). Secondly, that (…) social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water. (Lieberman and Eisenberger, 2008)

If you have time to read the whole piece, I recommend it.

In brief, the brain’s threat or “avoid” response results in increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol. When stressed, you are not able to think clearly, because the region of your brain that deals with executive functions like reasoning, linear processing, or even creative problem solving (pre-frontal cortex) doesn’t receive enough oxygen or glucose. Instead, you are more likely to generalize and play it safe (activating the amygdala, part of the older limbic brain structure also handling instinctive fight-or-flight responses).

The brain’s reward or “approach” response results in increased levels of happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. When rewarded, you feel engaged and motivated. You feel safe, joyful, and are more likely to see alternative options to problem solving and take risks.

The SCARF® model explains how the following five concepts affect our experiences with other people:

  • Status (how important are you compared to others)
  • Certainty (how well can you predict the future)
  • Autonomy (how much control do you have over certain events)
  • Relatedness (how safe and connected do you feel with others)
  • Fairness (how fair are your social interactions)

Rock explains that leaders can do the following things to reduce threat and increase reward for each aspect:

Adapted from David Rock's paper

Adapted from David Rock's paper

As with many other models or leadership frameworks, the limitation I see is that they were conceived and probably tested from a uniquely Western, if not even limited United States point-of-view.

Dr. David Rock and Christine Cox, Ph.D also published SCARF® in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. They propose using the model to evaluate emotional responses before, during, and after an event and added findings from more recent social neuroscience research. Some suggestions mention a cultural and personality-trait variations, e.g.

  • (…) the importance of status for an individual may be a basic personality trait and can influence social interactions even if he or she is not aware of it.
  • (…) Individual differences in various personality traits can also affect the way that people process and respond to uncertain and ambiguous situations.
  • (…) Across the globe, psychological prosperity (such as a sense of autonomy), as opposed to economic prosperity, better predicts feelings of well-being.
  • (…) It appears that the definition of in-group and out-group members is not limited to racial, ethnic, or political distinctions
  • (…) emotions are integral to judging fairness, and those judgments emerge over time through social experiences with others.

SCARF® "3.0"?

For the past five days, I’ve been blogging about the SCARF® model from a culture and personality Type perspective (note: trait and Type are not the same thing).

I propose to add future research studies to be controlled for – or at least take into consideration - these factors to give us a clearer understanding of how our brains work depending on Type and cultural environments.


Summary of my blog posts from the past 5 days

Summary of my blog posts from the past 5 days



How Type and Culture interact

expats_MBTI overlay images

expats_MBTI overlay images

We come into the world born with a pre-disposition to use our brains in certain ways. We go out to seek interactions and experiences that allow us to shine and use our preferred functions, reinforcing their strength and our aptitude in using them. At the same time, our surroundings influence how we express our preferences. Depending on when and where we grow up, society’s and our family’s feedback may encourage or suppress development of our natural preferences.

Different cultures developed as a response to outside threats to ensure survival of the species. Today, cultural behavior is driven by values.

The introverted Feeling (Fi) function gives meaning to values. The position of Fi in our type code gives clues as to how conscious we are of our values preferences. An exploration of our own values is the first step to understanding our cultural preferences. In turn, we can begin to understand how and why people from other cultures behave differently.

For expats, international assignments are tremendous change processes. Temperament™ / Essential Motivators™ information helps expats to prepare and adapt to un-expected changes. The fourth function provides insight into potential stress triggers, while the third can be applied to reduce stress and being playful, enjoying one’s time abroad.

In my experience, especially with German clients, we have to pay particular attention to the verbiage of competence and experience. For Germans, these words – as well as education, knowledge, and mastery – are anchored in cultural beliefs. It is therefore common when discussing Theorist™ descriptors for Germans of all types to be drawn to the NT profile.

When working with international clients, it is important to verify their personality types through their cultural lenses. The practitioner or coach should ideally be aware of their own cultural programming and personality type preferences to reduce projection and misinterpretation, as well as have a basic understanding of the cultural values and beliefs in the client’s home country.


3 Tips to Improve Your Professional Wellbeing


3 Tips to Improve Your Professional Wellbeing

copied from Pinterest
copied from Pinterest

I have worked with dozens of expats and accompanying partners over the years, and I don't know a single one who has seamlessly adapted to the new culture's leadership, team work, and communication style. The hiccups may be minor, but there will be hiccups.

To improve your professional wellbeing no matter where you are, start thinking about the tips below. If you're accompanying your partner on assignment, and you don't have a work permit in your new country, you might think about how these apply to your past jobs, or if you can use these for volunteering.

1. Ideally, you love the job you were hired for. Loving your job will help with motivation, getting up on Monday mornings, and persevering through tough times. If you don't love your job, list at least 5 things you like about it, e.g. the commute is short, your office space is comfortable, your colleagues are friendly, the benefits and salary support your family, etc.

We sometimes tend to see only the bad things. Focusing on what you like will help you feel gratitude and satisfaction; integral elements to wellbeing.

If you can't find anything you like about your job, knowing your strengths might help you find a new one.

2. Know your strengths and what you're good at Many of us don't have time to stop and think which parts of the job we love and which ones we don't enjoy. Generally, when we perform tasks that play to our inherent strengths, those tasks are easy for us. They come naturally, we do them well without having to concentrate too hard, and that often makes them enjoyable. If you're someone who loves a challenge, you will find enjoyment in problem-solving or having to work to achieve a level of competence. In that case, you may be good at various things, but after a while stop enjoying them, because maintaining the level of competence you want to show becomes more and more difficult to maintain since you have to keep working at it.

Continually working outside of our comfort zones increases stress. Learn more about yourself and take time to reflect what triggers stress for you. Personality Type instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® help you figure out what your inherent strengths are. Armed with that awareness, you will be able to devise strategies on how to bring them into your work more effectively, which will help improve wellbeing.

3. Maintain positive and supportive relationships with your colleagues Very few jobs today operate in complete isolation. You don't have to be in sales to come in contact with other team members, customers, or vendors. To understand the cultural differences of your new colleagues and professional network, you must first become aware of your own cultural preferences. Only after understanding your own programming and framework will you be able to compare what is different to you, and contrast what is different among them. Think of your culture as wearing glasses you were never aware of. Moving to a new country will force you to take those glasses off and see people and things differently.

As with the second point, you have to know yourself before you can start understanding others. Learn about your culture and the one you are now living in. Ask yourself, your friends and family how they would describe your home, and then ask your new colleagues about how they do things. Asking why-questions may be seen as accusatory or condescending, so it is most helpful to come from a place of genuine curiosity and willingness to learn.

Being cut off from your usual cultural cues will be disconcerting and cause anxiety. All of a sudden you're the odd one out. If you start questioning your identity, your wellbeing will suffer.

You don't have to change who you are. But when the way you've always done things back home does not yield the same results, you have to adapt and add new behaviors to the mix. Well - only if you want to be effective, that is. Over time, seeing progress in how successfully you're fitting in will improve your well-being.

Image by tdlucas5000, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Type and Culture Model

Do you believe people can change? Or do we come into the world and go out the same?

I'm fascinated by how these paradoxes show up in everyday lives. While I love having one-on-one conversations, I also try to extrapolate patterns and apply meaning for larger groups.

For example, when I look at my friends and family, I see many of them how they have always been. They grew up to be who they were meant to be. When I look at myself, I think I have changed a LOT since I was a child, and yet those same friends and family tell me I'm just the same as always.

Who's right?

One way of reconciling the different selves is Linda Berens' model that I've adapted with her permission.

Nature and Nurture Model - Living Systems are integral wholes

Going counter-clockwise, the Contextual Self describes those skills and behaviors that you're using now. You're a person in the 21st Century, familiar with IT, sitting in front of a screen reading this article. If you were praying in church or drinking at a bar, your demeanors and behaviors would likely be different and adapt to those circumstances.

Your Developed Self is the totality of everything you have been and learned so far.

It's helpful if we see ourselves with a "yes, and" attitude. We're never just one or two traits alone, we're always a conglomeration and mixture of things. No need to be "in control" or "organized" or "the caretaker" exclusively all the time - when you're also feeling spontaneous, overwhelmed, or tired at the same time.

Our Core Self describes those personality type preferences and predispositions we come into the world with. In an ideal environment, we get to be who we are and live out our preferences, develop them to the fullest, become all that we were meant to be, realizing our potential.

At the same time, our cultural context also lays down some behavioral norms. Where we grow up matters: the actions and behaviors accepted and morally supported by our surroundings will shape the expression of our type preferences.

It's no wonder the question became "which came first: type or culture?" and more importantly, "which matters more?"

I believe type comes first, AND that culture has an equally important influence in the shaping of our character, our behaviors, our selves. If culture came first, we could probably expect most inhabitants of that culture to have the same type preferences. That is clearly not the case, as all preferences show up in all cultures.

So - when I look at my friends and family, I see my past experiences with them, filtered through my own preferences and what I think is right or weird. When they see me, it's the same deal: they see me through their various lenses.

Type and culture alone don't explain everything about us, but taken together they provide a more complete picture. And I don't know about you, but I think that's fascinating.



What Soldiers and Expats have in common

landmines sandboxOne fearlessly accepts a challenge, moves to a foreign land, learns to dodge bullets, not step on landmines, and is afraid for his family's well-being, and the other is a soldier.


Both go abroad

Kidding aside, I'm not going to equate avoiding cultural landmines with avoiding actual ones. Still, many expats find themselves in so-called crisis posts or on hardship assignments. Depending on how sensitive you are to change, the adrenaline rush may even be comparable.landmines visual

Leaving your friends and families behind to serve your country or your corporation is a tremendous change process. You'll be cut off from your usual cultural cues, your living arrangements will be different, you may not speak the local language, you may not have access to your favorite food or entertainment items.

All of these changes contribute to brain shock. First, you'll have a reaction to the external differences. Then, later on, you may find yourself wondering about how you are the one that's different on the inside.

Both need training

Soldiers I've spoken to received an overview of local customs. Granted, their missions may not always involve connecting with the locals, but thankfully, e.g. the US Army is recognizing the importance of understanding your enemy at a cultural level. The following are quotes from the CNN article, "'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority":

While physical conditioning and live-fire exercises certainly help prepare troops for deployment, they're culturally blind if they don't understand the people among whom they'll be fighting. In the 21st century, when the U.S. is at war with ideals as much as -- if not more than -- foreign armies, this blind side can be as dangerous as your M249 jamming.


Currently, anthropology, language and 10,000 years of heritage are squeezed into troops' curricula a few weeks before deployment, what Dowling calls "cultural training on steroids." Between pre-deployment paperwork and drills, they are handed a small pamphlet outlining some history and cultural no-nos to avoid.


Col. Jeff Broadwater said efforts to craft a more culturally savvy Army is an effort to foster more symbiotic relationships across various regions.

(...)The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated how cognizance of cultures, ethnicities and religions was essential to understanding the source of conflict, Broadwater said.

Dowling added that the training alone can help a soldier better understand the lay of any land. Even if troops received cultural training specifically for African nations, it would be better to use that unit in the Middle East than troops who weren't culturally aligned at all, he said.

"Anthropologically, socially, economically, they'll have to reset what the answers are, but the right questions will already be in their mind," he said.

Most corporations also understand the positive impact cultural awareness can have. The following are figures reported in the 2012 Brookfield Global Relocation Survey:

  • 81% of companies provided formal cross-cultural preparation. 44% on some assignments; and 37% on all assignments. Where cross-cultural preparation was offered only on some assignments, 51% made it available based on the type of assignment; 28% based on host location; and 21% based on other criteria.
  • Where cross-cultural training was offered on all assignments, 60% provided it to the entire family; 27% to the international assignee and spouse; and 8% for employees alone. There was an 11% increase in offering cross- cultural training on all assignments from the 2011 report.
  • At companies where cross-cultural training was offered, it was mandatory at 24% of companies.
  • 85% of respondents rated cross-cultural training as having good or great value.

As you can see, we're still far away from 100 %.

Both will face Reintegration issues

And this is what I want to take this week to explore a little further. I'll reference the "Introduction to Type and Reintegration" book by Elizabeth Hirsh, Katherine W. Hirsh and James Peak.

Thanks for joining me.



The World as 100 People

Jack Hagley makes infographics, and this one based on numbers from is pretty cool: Makes me wonder how we're all connected, sharing this big blue ball called Planet Earth, but most of all grateful I'm in a home with internet access and a glass of clean water within reach.

the world as 100 people


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Step 1 - Get to know myself (again)

Pic Credit teachernz I first wrote about Getting to know myself back in 2008. Here's what I'd like to add: Personality Type and cultural preferences provide a nice framework to begin thinking about where some of my behaviors might come from. My cultural background explains some of what's important to me, and Type is a unique personal and professional development tool, helping me appreciate my own strengths and opportunities for growth, as well as appreciate those points in others.

I best identify with ENFJ preferences. I may not look like an ENFJ all the time, because in my job I'm often dealing with groups and paying attention to details, seeming like an ESFP. When I work from home, I'm quite comfortable spending hours alone, reading and writing online. But the pattern is there:

"mentoring, leading people to achieve their potential and become more of who they are." (Berens, Nardi, 2004)

The first thing I want to do when meeting old and new friends is connect. Holding a space for others is important to me, although I might get too excited and just start blabbering. Staying with myself without getting absorbed into other people's drama or take on their feelings as my own is a continuous conscious exercise. Dipping into a sea of knowing what's going to happen and how someone will react to a certain situation happens unconsciously. Yet when I try to pay attention to the vibe it may disappear. I love going for walks and doing Yoga or Zumba relaxes me; my body may be tired but my mind is usually alert after exercise.

I'm not sure how my extraverted Feeling and introverted Intuiting preferences were nurtured growing up. I remember lots of feeling bad for others and wanting to please everyone and fit in, often without success. At any given time I had maybe one or two "best" friends. Lots of acquaintances, but not many friends, at least by my definition. Still, I remember lending an ear and giving advice on many matters to many people. I remember making mistakes and seeking approval in many wrong places. I know I read a lot; my parents are still sorting out boxes upon boxes of books I left behind.

Growing up in my parents' house, realistic pragmatism (is there any other kind?) definitely dominated the everyday environment. On Hofstede's cultural dimensions, Germany scores high in the Uncertainty Avoidance Index. That means Germans like to know what happens and be prepared, avoiding uncertainty wherever we can. A big part of me wants to know what the future holds, but there are also examples in my past where I jumped in without knowing what was going to happen. None of my international moves were thoroughly planned in any way - that's why I like to share what I learned to save other expats the time and tears.

Flaggen_Still, I'm very German in my approach to communication - direct and straightforward, little to no beating around the bush. Swearwords? Not a problem. I appreciate a good rational argument, but may not be able to follow your logic. On Trompenaars' dimensions, I fall on the Universalist (the same rules apply to everyone) and Achievement (respect for what you've done, not who you are) sides. Competence and expertise are important to me. I couldn't stand it if anyone thought I was an impostor. Over time, my opinion of punctuality has been taken over by a slight mediterranean influence - but I'll still let you know when I'm running late. Keeping people waiting without even the courtesy of a call or text message would be disrespectful.

Unfortunately, self-examination is not always a helpful tool when you really want to get to know yourself. I've recently asked former and current colleagues and friends to choose some adjectives (based on Linda Berens' Interaction Styles) to describe me, and it's interesting and challenging to recognize I may not appear to others as I do to myself. I still think it's a great exercise to engage in from time to time - getting to know yourself all over again.


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Barrett's Seven Levels of Consciousness

Hello! Thanks for visiting and please enjoy the free info below! 

Just fyi, you can find me over at from now on, where I'm making custom lettering and calligraphy. 

This archive will be discontinued next month. 

If you enjoyed last week's look at Maslow's hierarchy, its limitations and implications, you may find Richard Barrett's model interesting as well. Click on the image below to see a larger version. Barrett has taken Maslow's pyramid and added to it, offering services to individuals, companies, schools, and governments to better understand culture and values. He combines Physiological and Safety needs in his "Survival" Category, maintains "Relationship" (Belonging) and "Self-Esteem", and takes self-actualization as a starting point for the "Transformation" towards higher goals of "Internal Cohesion", "Making a Difference", and "Service".

As with any culture model, it is important to remember every author is looking through their own cultural lens. It's always difficult if not impossible to take a neutral view of other cultures. What I like about this framework though, as well as e.g. Ken Wilber's Integral Theory, is that they are dynamic, not rigid. They allow for movement and development. In fact, they might shine a light and point out a path, challenging and encouraging us to do more and be better.

Barrett's Seven Levels of Consciousness also describe what can happen in situations of what he calls "excessive focus". That is when movement is denied and attention becomes too rigid. For example, for an individual working on Self-Esteem needs, it is helpful to engage in behaviors that foster confidence, competence, and self-reliance. These might include practicing vulnerability and setting effective boundaries. If focus becomes rigid, however, the need for self-esteem can turn us into power-hungry egomaniacs, only concerned with our status and authority, needing others to be less-than.

For an organization, it may help to have high performance systems and processes in place, particularly to attract and retain the best talent. If the approach is too rigid and centralized, not taking country-specific cultural differences into account, these same processes can soon turn into bureaucratic nightmares, effectively achieving the result they intend to avoid, namely confusion and complacency.

Where do you see yourself in this model, and where do you see your spouse, organization, or community? What can you do to align values and behaviors to reach the next level?